Data on police officers killed since 1961

In 2012 I put together some data for Radley Balko on the purported rise of police killings. Last week I saw that Dara Lind prepared something similar at Vox. My data goes back a little bit further than Dara’s (her’s goes to 1996, mine to 1961), and I thought to put up what I have here.

The FBI keeps track of two types of police deaths: Accidental deaths and felonious killings, which involves the deliberate killing of law enforcement officers in the line of duty. I’ve collected three statistics related to the latter. First, number of officers feloniously killed since 1961; second, the rate of felonious deaths per 100,000 officers since 1989; and finally, average felonious deaths per five-year period since 1961. I present these statistics in chart form here, and at the end of the post I share my data file and talk about the process of obtaining these figures.

Everything is collected from the Uniform Crime Reports compiled by the FBI. One comment from the 1990 UCR report I found very interesting: “The 1990 total was the lowest since the FBI started collecting such data in the 1960s.” I was able to find online older UCR report up until 1961, and that has made me somewhat confident that my data goes back to the first years that the FBI started to keep track of this number. I’d like to keep updating this as new data comes in so that it can be a complete and easily-searchable source of for these numbers. Your help and feedback is appreciated.

Here’s the summary: In general, the job of policing has become much safer since 1961. Here are a few interesting points.

  • More officers were feloniously killed in the 11 years between 1970 and 1980 (1228 deaths) than in the 21 years between 1993 and 2013 (1182 deaths).
  • The rate of felonious killings per 100,000 officers has declined from about 18 in 1989 to about 5 in 2013. It was over 3 times safer to be a police officer in 2013 than 26 years ago.
  • In the five years between 1971 and 1975, an average of 125 officers were feloniously killed per year. Most recently, between 2006 and 2010, the equivalent number is 50. That’s more remarkable given that the number of officers employed has increased considerably since the ‘70s.

Now the data. Click on these pictures to zoom.

Number of officers feloniously killed since 1961

police-fatalities

I’ve put in a trendline to better illustrate the decline. The peak year for deaths was 132 killings in 1972. The safest year recorded was the most recent: 27 deaths in 2013. That’s nearly an 80% drop. The number of deaths has steadily decreased since the ‘70s, with two spikes in 2001 and 2011.

Next, felonious killings per 100,000 officers since 1989

police-fatalities-rate-per-100,000

You’ll see from the data source in the next section that the number of officers has grown from about 400,000 officers in 1990 to about 530,000 officers in 2000. Still, this decline in the rate of killings isn’t just driven by an expanding denominator (number of officers), but also a declining numerator (number of killings). The number of killings has decreased even when the number of officers grew by over 25%.

The data on the number of officers serving is really difficult to find, which is why my cutoff has been 1989, the last year for which I can get reliable data. I’ll talk more about this in the next section.

Finally, five-year averages of felonious killings

average-police-fatalities-decade

This is just an aggregation of the first chart, useful for seeing the decline of felonious killings in half-decade chunks.

Summary

Every time a police killing makes it to national headlines, voices pipe up warning of an ominous trend in the rise of police officer killings. (See Radley’s recent compilation of some of these articles.) This data indicates that policing is much safer than in the past.

2013 was the safest year recorded for felonious killings of police. It’s hard to go down from 27 deaths. Consider that an increase of 9 felonious killings of police in 2014 would be a 33% rise from the year before; meanwhile, 9 felonious deaths over the 1972 peak would be only a 5% increase.

The data

I’ve compiled everything I’ve found into a Google Doc that you can find here. The first sheet holds the data I’ve collected, along with the source of every year’s UCR report. The next three sheets hold each of the three charts above. You’re very welcome to use it as you like, but please link to this original post or mention @danwwang.

Now some remarks about how I got the data. It was a big challenge to find some of these data points because collections are so haphazard, so I especially welcome feedback and corrections if you catch any errors.

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A simple exercise to improve your writing

Try this out:

Re-type an article you really like.

Almost any article will do. Ideally it’s a good piece of writing, but really the only requirement is that you  like it.

Here’s how to start:

Find an article by someone whose writing skills you admire and whom perhaps you want to imitate. If it’s a magazine, lay it out in front of your laptop and re-type the article. If it’s online, open up a notepad or a Google Doc, put it beside the article, and start typing.

It’s a fun and simple way to improve as a writer.

Why? You notice things when you re-type. You get a sense of the choices a writer makes in diction and syntax; you see how they move between sentences and paragraphs; you figure out how to hyphenate, and the right way to use semicolons after all. You see all of the things that your eyes used to glide over. Even small things like where a comma is placed becomes incredibly important.

It doesn’t have to be a whole article. Just take your favorite few paragraphs and re-type them.

Don’t know where to look? Try out a long piece from the New Yorker. There are some terrifically gifted writers there. Plus, its archive of the last few years is free this summer.

Or, try re-typing the work of a reporter. They usually write clearly and matter-of-factly. Radley Balko is a master of clarity, on the level of both individual sentences and also in terms of structure.

Go for it. It’s fun. Not only will you enjoy re-reading your favorite passages again, you’ll have a better sense of how the magic came together.

 

My piece on administrative warrants for Reason

I explore a fairly technical piece of the Fourth Amendment right to privacy in a Supreme Court petition coming from Rochester. Here’s the link. And here’s the full piece.

How Government Violates the Fourth Amendment Rights of Renters

In Rochester, New York, renting rather than buying a home is enough cause for a search warrant.

Florine and Walter Nelson are grandparents who have lived in Rochester for over 30 years. For nearly a third of that time, they have resisted the efforts of city officials to inspect their home on the basis that they are renters rather than buyers. Since 2005, the city has steadily escalated its efforts to enter their house, by charging them with contempt and attempting to use “administrative” search warrants to conduct suspicionless searches.

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My piece on eminent domain for the Huffington Post

I was so privileged to work on this with Radley Balko when I interned with him. This piece, about the township of Mount Holly trying to exercise eminent domain, was published in the Politics vertical of the Huffington Post on August 1st, 2012. Here’s the link. And here it is in full.

New Jersey Town Rips Up Working-Class Neighborhood for Private Developers

By Dan Wang

Santos Cruz still remembers the first time he heard the demolition crews. “They came without any warning at 6 a.m. outside my home,” he said in a recent interview with The Huffington Post. “The ground started shaking and there was a tremendous amount of noise. They knocked down all the houses they owned: It was like being in a war zone for a whole month.” Cruz, 49, has lived in Mount Holly Gardens, N.J., for 23 years. Now, the local government wants him out.

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